Religious houses: The grey friars

Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead. Originally published by Mackenzie and Dent, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827.

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Eneas Mackenzie, 'Religious houses: The grey friars', Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827), pp. 128-130. British History Online [accessed 21 June 2024].

Eneas Mackenzie. "Religious houses: The grey friars", in Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827) 128-130. British History Online, accessed June 21, 2024,

Mackenzie, Eneas. "Religious houses: The grey friars", Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827). 128-130. British History Online. Web. 21 June 2024,


This was one of the most eminent of the four orders of Mendicants. They were called Franciscan Friars, from St. Francis, their founder; Grey Friars, from the colour of their habit; and Minors, through humility. Before persons could be admitted into this order, they were obliged to give a convincing proof of the disinterestedness of their motives, by selling all they had, and giving it to the poor. Their habit was a loose garment reaching to the ancles, with a cowl and a cloak over it when they went abroad. They were girded with cords; and the Observants, a rigid branch of this order, went barefooted. They came into England in 1224, and are said to have been established in Newcastle by the Carliols, wealthy merchants in the time of king Henry III. At a general chapter of this order, held at Narbonne in France in 1258, it appeared that the English province had seven custodies. The custody or wardenship of Newcastle included nine convents, viz. the monastries of Newcastle, Richmond, Hartlepool, Carlisle, Berwick, Roxburgh, Dundee, Dumfries, and Haddington.

On the king passing through Newcastle in 1299, the brethren of this house received 11s. 4d. for their pittance of one day; but on a similar occasion in 1322, their pittance was only 8s.

This convent (fn. 1) had a conduit from a fountain called the Seven-head Well, which was walled about and locked up. The spring being abundant, they gave the public leave to use it; but the favour being abused, by breaking up the conduit, and changing its course, the brethren obtained a royal grant in 1342, from Edward III. who was then in Newcastle, to wall it in again, lock it up, and keep the key, as formerly, without infringement of their exclusive right. This well is at the head of Lork Burn, and is still kept in good repair.

At this period, the Franciscans were divided into two parties; the Conventuals, and the Observants, or Recollects. The former adopted the relaxation introduced into that order by Pope Innocent IV. in 1368, which allowed the brotherhood to hold property and possessions; but the latter embraced the reformation introduced in 1400 by St. Bernard of Sienna. The Observants were patronized by king Henry VII. who, previous to his death in 1509, expelled the Conventuals from this house, and filled it with Observants. In consequence, however, of the imposture of Elizabeth Barton, the Holy Maid of Kent, in 1534, which the Observants countenanced, they were removed out of their houses, and the Conventuals again took possession of this convent. But it was induced to surrender on January 9, 1539, at which time it consisted of John Cragforth, prior, eight friars, and two novices. As the Franciscans subsisted chiefly on charity, their house here had no rents. (fn. 2) Speed, on the authority of the royal records, says that this order was principally supported by a charitable and free donation of five-pence, once in three months, from every house or family. Tanner informs us, that their convent in this town was granted to the Earl of Essex, James Rokesby, and others.

Leland says, "The Observant Freres house stood by Pandon Gate. It is a very faire thing." But Pandon has evidently been written in mistake for Pilgrim. The scite of this monastry must have been somewhere in Major Anderson's grounds, adjoining the High Friar Chare, which must have conducted to it. The Milbank MS. says it stood near Pilgrim Street-Gate, and that there was a lane between it and the walls. The burial-ground of the convent was immediately opposite to Ficket Tower, where the new Presbyterian meeting-house now stands. It was usual for persons of note to be buried among these Grey Friars, and also in the habit of their order. Brand says he "found, built up in the wall of a house adjoining to the scite of the monastry, the fragment of a grave-stone, which has, no doubt, been taken out of their burial-ground. A sword is marked on it. The mutilated inscription runs thus, 'Hic jacet ........eming.' The last, I suppose, has been 'Fleming,' a name which often occurs anciently among the magistrates of Newcastle." (fn. 3) The house Mr. Brand alludes to stands in Pilgrim Street, at the corner of High Friar Lane. The gravestone of the Rev. William Durant, as will be noticed hereafter, was also found here.


  • 1. This house enjoyed the honour of having educated the celebrated Dr. John Scot, usually called Duns Scotus and the Subtile Doctor, the glory of the Franciscans. Wading and Colgan contend that he was an Irishman; and John Major, Dempster, and Trithemus, say he was a Scotsman, born at Dunse, eight miles north of the Tweed. But Leland, Wharton, Cave, and Tanner, demonstrate that he was an Englishman, and a native of Dunston, in the parish of Embleton, Northumberland, which village still belongs to Merton College in Oxford, of which hall he was a member. This is attested in the end of several manuscript copies of his Comments on the Sentences, written soon after the time when he lived, and still shewn at Oxford, in the colleges of Baliol and Merton. About the close of the 13th century, he was admitted into this priory. When sent to Oxford, he was soon distinguished for his attainments in scholastic theology, civil and canon law, in logic, natural philosophy, metaphysics, mathematics, and astronomy. In 1301, he filled the theological chair with such reputation, that it is said above thirty thousand scholars attended his lectures. He removed to Paris in 1304, where honours were showered upon him, and he was placed at the head of all the theological schools in that city. Being ordered, in 1308, by Gonsalvo, the general of the Minorites, to remove to Cologne, he was received by the whole city in procession; but died on the 8th of November, in the same year, of an apoplexy, being only thirty-four years old. Paul Jovius says that he recovered his senses after his interment, when he beat his head against his tomb till he died; but some impartial writers treat this story as a groundless fiction. For the subtlety and quickness of his understanding, and his penetrating genius, he was justly regarded as a prodigy. His works were published at Lyons, in 1636, by Luke Wading, a learned Irish Franciscan, in 12 folio volumes.—Bale's Dic.—Wood's Athen. Oxon.—Butler's Lives, vol. vii. p. 169.—Biog. Brit.—Hist. of Northumb. vol. i. p. 421. Hugh, a native of Newcastle, also took the habit in this priory. He is commonly sirnamed the Scholastic Doctor, was a diligent follower and zealous defender of Duns Scotus, and was one of the fourteen about his tomb. This Hugh of Newcastle distinguished himself by his works on the Master of Sentences, the Last Judgment, and the Victory against Antichrist. Martin, a native of Alnwick, in Northumberland, entered this monastry when a youth. He afterwards studied philosophy and divinity at Oxford, where he was made Doctor of Divinity, and Reader of the same among the Minorites. He wrote disputations on the Master of Sentences, or body of divinity. This learned friar died in 1336, and was buried in this convent.
  • 2. "A brefe certificate made upon the dissolutions of diverse monaster' &c. 30 Hen. VIII. Newcastell, Grey Freres there, Robert Brandlyng, merchant, keper.—Clere valew, &c. 5s. The nombre, &c. 12.—The clere money 5s.—The stok, &c. £11, 11s. Rewards, &c. 63s. 4d. The remaner, &c. £8, 7s. 8d. Lead, 24 fother.—Bells, two.—Woods, &c. nil.—Playte, &c. 32 unc'.—Detts owing unto and by nil."—Harleian MSS. 604.
  • 3. The Flemings were the most spirited and enterprising people of the 12th century. They migrated to England in great numbers during the reign of William Rufus, who settled them on the waste lands in Northumberland and Cumberland, where they laid the foundation of many very distinguished houses. They acted as stipendiaries in the civil wars of king Stephen; but were oppressed and banished in great numbers on the accession of king Henry II. in 1154, when they fled into Scotland, which kingdom they contributed to civilize by their knowledge and industry, and defend by their courage and magnanimity. This town must have been greatly "energized" by "the craftsmen Flemings."—Malmsbury, fo. 68.—Brady's Hist. vol. i. p. 298.—Chalmers' Caledonia, vol. i. p. 600.—Hist. of Northumb. vol. i. pp. 56 & 270.